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By the time the next British general election takes place in 1991 or 1992, Margaret Thatcher will have been prime minister for more than 12 years. In 1987, after eight years in office, her majority of over 100 seats in Parliament remained more or less what it had been after the 1983 election, a contest held in the aftermath of the Falklands campaign. Until about a year ago the Conservative Party maintained a substantial lead in the opinion polls. By any standard this is a remarkable political achievement-only one other British prime minister, Lord Liverpool, has lasted as long-and the 1980s in Britain will be remembered as the Thatcher Decade.
Is her dominance now beginning to falter? Over the last year there have been signs that the government's support was slipping. Last June the European elections saw a swing to Labour and the loss of 13 Conservative seats, as well as the emergence of a "Green" party. Admittedly there were special circumstances that placed the Conservatives in difficulties in that election. But since then Labour has been running ahead in the polls, usually by between five and ten points, and these surveys have also shown the unpopularity of a number of government policies. Above all, it is the recurrence of inflation and the steep rise in interest rates to counter it, and the sudden resignation of Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson on October 26 that have thrown Conservative members of Parliament into disarray and spread discontent among some Tory voters.
Is all this an ordinary midterm swing in government popularity, or is it a chance for the "new look" that Labour has given its policies to have an effect on the electorate, offering Neil Kinnock's Labour Party some hope of victory in the 1990s?
To answer such questions it is as well to bear in mind the changes brought about in British society by ten years of Conservative government. For what is called "Thatcherism" has not been merely a series of political measures. Starting with the aims of stimulating individual effort and enterprise and weaning citizens from dependence on the state, it has created, or triggered, a social and economic revolution, the results of which will continue to be felt for many years to come and cannot be reversed by subsequent governments.
In the 1960s it was usual for commentators to blame the British class system for the country's apparent inability to modernize itself, for Britain's poor industrial performance and its institutions, which seemed ill adapted to the late twentieth century. In the 1980s Mrs. Thatcher provided a response to these complaints. Under her leadership the Tories have been transformed into an egalitarian, meritocratic party, whose clientele is to be found in an extended middle class that now includes some forty percent of the population and encompasses skilled blue collar workers as well as members of the professions. Gone are the "knights of the shire"-those patrician figures who were once said to control constituency parties in rural England. Under Mrs. Thatcher the old British "establishment," from bishops to trade union secretaries, has lost much of its influence. Its voice is more often to be heard in anguished letters to The Times than within Number 10 Downing Street.1
In other words, Mrs. Thatcher has created a new electoral following more in tune with an egalitarian postindustrial society than her party's traditional supporters. The political consequences of this can be seen on the electoral map. In the south and in East Anglia, the London inner city apart, hardly a seat is held by the Labour Party. Labour also has very few seats in the Midlands. Yet these are precisely the areas in which there has been economic and population growth over the past decade. In 1984, for example, 52 percent of all employment was found in the southeast, the southwest, East Anglia and the East Midlands. But the 1983 and 1987 elections left the Labour Party with only a handful of seats in these regions. The Labour Party's heartland is largely to be found among the decaying industries and declining population of the north of England and industrial Scotland. It is realization of the fact that Labour must reach out for new types of voters and produce policies which satisfy their requirements that has led Mr. Kinnock to fight a courageous and grueling battle for new policies and abandon old shibboleths such as unilateral nuclear disarmament and public ownership of industry. He has fought successfully against his own party's left wing, many of whose members would prefer defeat at the next election to the destruction of cherished idols.
This swing to the right in Labour policies has produced a more credible party. It is a tribute to the intellectual dominance enjoyed by Thatcherite ideas during the last decade that Labour should now be offering its own version of a "market" economy. Mr. Kinnock has been helped by the collapse, after the last election, of the Social Democrat/Liberal Alliance-a disintegration that came about through a combination of personal antagonisms and post-defeat hysteria. On the other hand, the appearance of Green candidates might well harm the Labour Party more than the Conservatives, since they could attract protest votes and serve as a rallying point for members of the Labour left who cannot stomach Mr. Kinnock's new policies. However, it would seem to be mistaken to argue that the Conservatives have dominated British politics in recent years because of a "split" in the opposition. In 1987 the votes lost by the Alliance went equally to Conservative and Labour, and, from the beginning, the Social Democrats had more in common with Conservative policies than they did with those of Labour. Essentially, the next contest at the polls will be between the two major parties, with the others playing a much smaller role.
At the next election the determining factor will be, as so often, the state of Britain's economy. It was the worsening economic crisis of the 1970s and the contribution made to it by the radicalization of the trade union movement that produced the surge of opinion that brought Mrs. Thatcher to power. It has been mistrust of the Labour Party's ability to manage the economy that has allowed her to remain there. The core of Thatcherite policy has been the stimulation of individual initiative and enterprise, the re-creation of habits of thrift and hard work. In its economic management, if anywhere, success is vital to the government.
Understandably, the degree to which Mrs. Thatcher has effected an improvement in Britain's economic performance is a matter of controversy. But that some improvement has taken place is beyond dispute.2 Not everything has been done; Britain in some respects still lags behind its industrial competitors, but there are also quite a number of success stories. Eight years of steady economic growth have been accompanied by increases in productivity, profitability and investment. Stringent financial policies and privatization have increased the efficiency of the state sector of industry and services-in some cases dramatically (e.g., steel)-and removed a huge burden from the public purse. Some three million new jobs have been created, and there has been a steep increase in the numbers of self-employed and new small businesses.3 This expanding economic base has been reflected in budget surpluses of up to £14 billion, while British overseas investments have been restored to a level second only to that of Japan. The financial institutions of the City of London have been reformed and adapted to the advanced technology and international markets of the late twentieth century.
These achievements did not take place without pain. Not only did unemployment reach three million before dropping, but many more workers were forced to change jobs or learn new skills. The nature and location of British manufacturing industries were altered as new trade patterns, arising out of Britain's membership in the Common Market, had their effect. Mrs. Thatcher's government took the risk of accelerating economic and social change, and by 1987 this seemed to have paid off, despite the increase in political and social tensions caused by the upheaval. Evidence for this can only be anecdotal, but it is significant that intelligent young people are now keen to start businesses of their own rather than looking for "safe" jobs in, say, the civil service. Moreover, the reforms carried out-trade union legislation and the privatization of nationalized industries-met with little opposition. The experience of the 1970s left corporatism and public ownership with few defenders. Although Britain still has some way to go, Mrs. Thatcher's claim to have infused a new vitality into its economy appeared firmly based. One result of this has been an increased realization among the middle classes of the need to work harder and more competitively.
It was, therefore, a particularly serious matter for the Conservative Party that the economic boom of 1987-88, pushed further by the reduction of income tax in the 1988 budget, should have resulted in a recurrence of inflation. Contrary to the forecasts of Mr. Lawson, inflation rose beyond eight percent. Though it may now have peaked, inflation has only been controlled by a steep rise in interest rates.
This was more than a minor setback. Since it appeared to be the result of a miscalculation, renewed inflation called into question the government's economic management, the competence and financial rigor that were the bases of Thatcherism. Not only that: whereas the stern measures and industrial de-manning of the early 1980s were felt by voters who were not natural Conservative supporters-workers in decaying heavy industries, junior civil servants, local government employees and so forth-high interest rates have hit the middle class beneficiaries of Thatcherism, the young executives who have taken out high mortgages or people starting up new businesses.
There is a parallel between Mr. Lawson's error and the "winter of discontent" of 1978-79 that destroyed the then Labour government's claim to be able to manage the trade unions-a claim on which its appeal to the electorate was based. The Tories have more time to recover: at the time of that awful winter, Prime Minister James Callaghan had less than a year to go before an election had to be called. Mrs. Thatcher currently has three years.
Mr. Lawson's resignation has undoubtedly harmed Mrs. Thatcher's government. The shock of the loss of the minister, who had once been considered a model chancellor and still carried great authority, was bound to throw the Conservative Party off balance and concentrate criticism once again on Mrs. Thatcher herself. It was all too like the 1986 "Westland affair," when nervous tension exploded into anger and the resignation of the minister of defense, Michael Heseltine.
Mrs. Thatcher moved quickly to replace Mr. Lawson in what is widely thought to be a good reshuffle-John Major becoming chancellor and Douglas Hurd foreign secretary. Major's qualifications to be chancellor are reinforced by an outstandingly successful period as chief secretary to the treasury, during which he managed the difficult business of deciding ministries' expenditures with great tact. Mr. Hurd was a Foreign Office official before entering politics. He is a committed "European," whereas Mr. Major's views as to such matters as full entry into the European Monetary System (EMS) remain obscure.
Despite initial turbulence on the currency exchanges following the Lawson resignation, nothing seems to have changed in the government's economic policy. Mr. Major is still faced with the same problem as Mr. Lawson: to bring down inflation without driving the domestic economy into recession. He will certainly keep up interest rates for the time being, though he may be more inventive than Mr. Lawson and more willing to accept some drop in the pound. But the prospects for Britain's economy remain the same: a hard slog through 1990 with the probability of some good news in 1991. There will be pressure for entry into the EMS currency grid, but even committed Europeans realize that this cannot take place until inflation is brought down. In the meantime, inflation and high interest rates have created a potential rift between the Conservative Party and its loyal supporters in the economically modern sections of the country.
A similar unease has also been aroused among natural Conservative supporters by the direction taken by the government's program of reform since 1987. Proposals to reform education, the National Health Service and the legal system have offended powerful interest groups among the middle classes. Teachers in state schools have always had a leftward bent, but the Conservatives have now taken on university teachers, doctors and the legal profession. These are powerful and vocal lobbies, and it is a mark of Mrs. Thatcher's devotion to her principles that she was willing to challenge them. More than the trade unions these groups might hope to appeal successfully to public opinion. The British Medical Association, for example, has responded with a costly and somewhat unscrupulous campaign of public relations. The BMA, however, may have overreached itself in appearing to claim that only doctors know how to administer the National Health Service and that neither the Ministry of Health nor Parliament should be allowed its own say.
Similarly, if previous privatizations met with few objections, that of the water authorities has encountered strong Green opposition.4 The introduction of a new system of local taxation, the "community charge," is also something that any government might have hesitated to tackle, given the amount of controversial legislation on other matters already before Parliament.
It seems, therefore, that the government's decline in the opinion polls owes something to a feeling by voters that the torrent of legislation over the last two years has been excessive, that society has been overoperated by the Thatcher government. This merges with another type of criticism. Mrs. Thatcher's reforms have been carried out in the name of financial discipline and economic dynamism-understandably in view of the seriousness of the economic crisis facing Britain in 1979. But this emphasis on economic matters has made Mrs. Thatcher's policies vulnerable to charges of "materialism" and "lack of compassion" from a number of different sources ranging from the churches and organized charities to representatives of the arts and university research. An example of this type of criticism is to be found in a report by the religious correspondent of The Times on the National Conference of Catholic Priests in September of this year: "Individualism was thus seen not as a source of creativity and enterprise, as the government likes to say, but as another name for selfishness and sin."
Behind this steady stream of complaint, most of it coming from what it is fashionable to call "the chattering classes," looms a more specific issue. Now that the government has at its disposal such large budget surpluses, should not some of it be employed in the improvement of public services-transport, health, environment? There are signs that such a demand is beginning to appear among Conservative supporters. Not that the government has done nothing to meet it. Much money has been invested in the national infrastructure during the Thatcher years. But the emphasis has been on getting value for money or inducing the private sector to contribute to the costs. The government's image has, therefore, remained somewhat drably utilitarian.
Another complaint is that, under Mrs. Thatcher, the practice of government in Britain has become "authoritarian." Civil rights, it is said, have been curtailed, news has been "managed" by the prime minister's office and broadcasting organizations have been under pressure to restrain their left-wing journalists. Part of this criticism is simply caused by the existence of a government that for ten years has had an unassailable majority in Parliament and been able to pass what laws it chose with little chance of resistance or even delay. But it is also true that terrorism in Northern Ireland and its fallout in mainland Britain have caused an inevitable extension of police powers and measures, such as the forbidding of broadcast interviews with members of Sinn Fein, which have led to talk about restrictions on the freedom of the press.
It is probable that the mass of the population cares little about all this. But the impression given is of a strong government that intends to have its way without being too particular about the means. The image of the prime minister presented by her opponents is of a despot who is reluctant to take advice, has destroyed cabinet government and is prepared to treat even her most loyal supporters badly-witness the sad fate of the foreign minister, Sir Geoffrey Howe, dismissed in a ministerial reshuffle this summer. Mr. Lawson's resignation has revived the criticisms of Mrs. Thatcher's style of government. As usual on these occasions, there is talk of revolt against her leadership, although here again it may be doubted whether the voters are as concerned as the political class. The first Market and Opinion Research International (MORI) poll taken after the controversy over Sir Geoffrey's removal showed that the Tory position had actually improved by five points.
Since Mrs. Thatcher has given so strong a personal imprint to her government, such criticism has tended to concentrate on her person and her style. Yet too much should not be made of this. Too often foreign correspondents in London have misjudged the prime minister's political prospects because they relied on such superficial impressions and did not themselves move in the social circles where her support is to be found.
In foreign affairs, too, Mrs. Thatcher is often presented as the very embodiment of abrasive intransigence, yet the record shows that most of her negotiations have ended in compromise. The most striking example of this is the Anglo-Irish treaty, which she as an instinctive Unionist must have found difficult to swallow. Other instances are the agreements on Rhodesia and Hong Kong, the final compromise on Britain's contribution to the European Community budget, and the present renewal of negotiations with Argentina. In fact, Mrs. Thatcher is an extremely able and tough negotiator who will continue arguing until the last ounce of advantage has been extracted from the situation. Indeed, in domestic politics, too, she has often proved willing to try another tack when the line she was taking met with no success. To call her, as Social Democrat politician Roy Jenkins did, "a foolish woman" is to underestimate her. She is, above all, a realist, capable of making a tactical change while preserving the same strategic direction. Had she not haggled in Brussels she would never have succeeded in getting Britain's contribution to the European Community budget reduced. At the Commonwealth conferences her total opposition to sanctions against South Africa has been the only way of preventing decisions that would have been more damaging to the City of London than to Pretoria.
A nationalist, of course, she is. But there is an element of calculation here. Foreign policy in general has little influence on voting at elections, but a proclaimed determination to represent British interests in the most effective way possible is part of a general image of strong leadership that is attractive to the voter. The policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament did the Labour Party great damage, since, while the voters had no special affection for nuclear weapons, they did not like the idea of Britain surrendering its nuclear deterrent while others kept theirs. Mrs. Thatcher understands, and caters to, such feelings. The government is also helped by the prestige she has acquired abroad-the "head of state" treatment given her by Mikhail Gorbachev on her 1987 visit to the Soviet Union probably contributed something to her success in that year's election. Otherwise, foreign affairs has relatively little impact on domestic political controversy.
The exception is Europe. Here is an area where foreign affairs and domestic politics mingle. Britain's membership in the European Community means that a subject of discussion in Brussels may become a political issue at home. An obvious expression of this was the recent Conservative defeat at the European parliamentary elections, when the prime minister's objections to the federalist leanings of Jacques Delors, president of the European Commission, threw the party's message to the electorate into confusion-a lack of clarity that was punished by the loss of 13 seats. But even in this case, the question of foreign relations has only a limited effect on domestic politics. It must be remembered that only 36 percent of the electorate voted in the European elections. Many among those would be voters interested in, and approving of, the European Community, who would find Mrs. Thatcher's apparently anti-European stance not to their taste. Those who were more sympathetic to Mrs. Thatcher's qualms about closer European integration might not have bothered to go to the polls.
The future of the European Community and Britain's role in it are matters of political discussion, though the lines of argument are by no means clear. In 1988, in a speech at Bruges, Belgium, Mrs. Thatcher reiterated her commitment to a "Europe of the nation-states," with each country retaining ultimate responsibility for its own affairs and strict limits to the devolution of sovereignty to supranational institutions. This concept of Europe has found no such doughty defender since the days of De Gaulle, and it is not surprising that these views, which, in reality, are a description of the Community as it currently exists, should have upset the heirs of Jean Monnet's idealism. Mrs. Thatcher's is a vision of an "open" Community where free trade and investment flourish between neighbors, without the burden of a centralized bureaucracy trying to legislate for a pan-European state. On the contrary, for those who see the 1957 Treaty of Rome as the first step on the road to a full-blown European state it is natural to attach the greatest importance to the institutional framework that would support such a creation. These different approaches to the Community's future have their practical effects. In international economic relations the British government is more favorable to free trade than any other member-state, whereas those who aim at a closer-knit Europe often see protectionism as a means of building up European industry and asserting a European identity.
The British government took the lead in initiating the Community's much-heralded 1992 program, which envisages the striking down of nontariff barriers between member-states as well as opening the way to Community-wide establishment of financial institutions. But Mrs. Thatcher has rejected Mr. Delors' proposals for a "social dimension" to the Community, which she sees as "socialism by the back door,"5 and is hostile to his grand plan for monetary union that, it is felt, would transfer too many of the present responsibilities of government and Parliament to Brussels. Other countries, too, have their objections to the Delors plan-notably the Netherlands and West Germany-and among its most vigorous supporters are countries where controls on the movement of capital are still in force. The discussion has been paradoxical: those behind cried "Forward!" and those before cried "Back!" Nevertheless, despite a British pledge at the June 1989 Madrid summit of the European Community that the pound sterling should join the EMS grid, there has been much talk of Britain being "isolated" or "missing the boat."
Is there not a contradiction between entering the Community, whose avowed purpose is an "ever-closer union," and refusing to follow when the European vanguard proposes a great leap forward? There are two comments that can be made about this-the first in terms of British public opinion, the second in the context of the present changes in the wider European political conjuncture. First, it is true to say that very few in Britain would be in favor of turning over the essential powers and ultimate responsibility of the British government to European institutions. It is one thing to reply to a poll that one is "in favor" of European unity; it is quite another to accept that the level of income tax or the structure of social services should be agreed in Brussels.
Support for a "Europe of the states" that will remain a "Europe of the states" accurately expresses the limits of the British public's commitment. On this issue the opposition's position is no different from that of the government. Mr. Kinnock may have brought his party around from its previous anti-European policies, but he is unlikely to feel much enthusiasm for the Delors plan, and objections to it were voiced in a speech in Brussels on October 18 by John Smith, the shadow chancellor of the exchequer. Within her own party Mrs. Thatcher is faced with increasing demands for more careful scrutiny and control of European legislation. In Britain there is simply no constituency for the type of European enthusiasm that reigns in, say, the Benelux countries. This is a fact of political life, and it will be reflected in the European policies of any British government.
Second, over recent months there has been a sense-perhaps no more than that-that an evolution has been occurring among informed opinion in the United Kingdom as to the future of the European Community. While there is still support, and indeed enthusiasm, for an economic Community, there are growing doubts as to the probability and relevance of the final goal of political union in the environment of the new Europe that seems to be taking shape.
Changes in Soviet policy and the consequent opening up of Eastern Europe are offering fresh opportunities for the exercise of West German diplomacy and economic power. It is probable that West Germany's attention and activity will be increasingly directed toward the East, with economic expansion and a new deal for East Germany in mind. In that case, the European Community, seen in the 1960s as a sort of economic underpinning for the European end of the North Atlantic alliance, would become a very different body. A Community whose center had moved toward the East and whose membership might include a number of neutralized countries, some of them from Eastern Europe, would not be a body with any inherent political cohesion, and its raison d'être might be seen as a forum for mediating differences between East and West, a shadowy ground plan for President Gorbachev's "common European house," rather than the nucleus of a European state.
This is not the place for fully arguing the probability of these developments.6 It is sufficient to note that the perception that things are on the move in central and Eastern Europe, and the consciousness of what is implied by West German foreign policy under the guidance of Hans-Dietrich Genscher, are beginning to affect the British view of the Community's future course. For if it is to be simply an adjunct in a process of what Josef Joffe, foreign editor of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, has called "the 'Germanization' of East-West relations in Europe," then calls from Brussels and Strasbourg for the devolution of sovereignty sound unreal and not particularly attractive.7
The change in Soviet policy initiated by President Gorbachev has made the future of Europe more hopeful, but also far more uncertain. It has increased the number of options open to Europeans, in particular to the West Germans, but is dissolving the structures that have ensured European stability for over forty years. Mrs. Thatcher's reaction to this new situation has been twofold. She has warmly welcomed Mr. Gorbachev's reforms and his conciliatory international policies-no foreign leader has praised perestroika as highly as she did on her brief visit to Moscow in September-but she has been firm about the need to maintain Western security, criticizing West German opposition to the modernization of NATO's short-range nuclear weapons and expelling Russian diplomats engaged in espionage. It was she who first spotted the importance of Mr. Gorbachev, and she appears to have established a "special relationship" of her own with him. All this amounts to a policy conducted on two levels and, perhaps, on two time-scales. For even if one foresees the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and a diminished Soviet threat to Western Europe, there is everything to be said in favor of keeping NATO in a state of credible defense as long as possible. The negotiation of the long-delayed postwar settlement in Europe may be coming, and in that case it must be wise to keep Western defenses in repair, if only as a negotiating card.
But in the longer term, within a wider Europe that might include a reunited Germany, would not British interests be served by closer links between London and Moscow? Mrs. Thatcher's deepest instincts lead her to keep close to the United States, even if her relationship with George Bush is not quite what it was with Ronald Reagan. She admires Americans and American society. Nonetheless, within the continent of Europe there might be much to be gained for Britain by bringing in Eastern Europe to counterbalance the predominance of the Franco-German entente in Western Europe. Recently some Conservatives have put forward the idea that Britain might find itself more comfortable in a Europe enlarged toward the East, in which federalist aspirations would be weakened.
Britain's ambiguity toward the European future appears less paradoxical and also, it must be said, more realistic since the onset of Mr. Gorbachev's new policies. It is not so much a reneging on European unity as a hedging of bets by placing some money on another kind of Europe. To reproach Mrs. Thatcher for her want of European enthusiasm, therefore, may be to raise a false problem. Britain's "continental commitment" is beyond question. The doubt is to which Europe that commitment may be required.
How does all this leave the "special relationship" between Britain and the United States? In one sense, of course, it will always exist. The quantity of personal relationships, and educational and cultural exchanges, between the two countries do indeed form a relationship that has no parallel elsewhere. The British certainly feel closer to America than they do to any other country apart from Australia, Canada and New Zealand-so close, in fact, that they feel free to criticize the U.S. administration as though they had elected it.
However, the same feelings do not necessarily prevail between governments. During the Carter Administration, relations between London and Washington played a notably reduced role. Zbigniew Brzezinski's memoirs of his years as national security adviser to President Carter hardly mention the United Kingdom at all. Under the Reagan Administration not only were personal relations between the two leaders cordial, but there was a degree of ideological sympathy between the two governments that brought them into agreement. Mr. Reagan did Mrs. Thatcher a great service through his help in the Falklands campaign, and this was repaid when she took the politically difficult decision to allow American aircraft to take off from British bases to attack Libya.
Collaboration in intelligence matters is the most substantial feature left over from the Anglo-American wartime alliance. The onset of terrorism as a method of political protest and persuasion has given new importance to this aspect of their relationship. Britain has supported the United States in its fight against terrorism more strongly than any other country. The same is beginning to be true of the drug war.
The Reagan years saw close consultation between Britain and the United States, especially as the evolution of Soviet policy under Mr. Gorbachev produced a more fluid situation in Europe. It is significant that Britain's need to purchase nuclear weapons technology should now arouse no controversy in Washington. Indeed, European nuclear deterrence has been given the blessing of the 1988 Iklé report.8
Will things be different under President Bush? Presumably there will not be quite the same personal rapport with Mrs. Thatcher. In Europe, Mr. Bush has seemed to attach more importance to German than to British opinion, but this is hardly surprising since a major preoccupation of American policy must be to keep the Federal Republic from succumbing to Mr. Gorbachev's lures. Nonetheless, Mrs. Thatcher's close relationship with the Soviet leader will ensure her an audience in Washington under the new administration.
As for the future, it is probable that 1992 and its consequences will produce friction in the trade relations between the European Community and the United States. Britain, however, remains the most convinced free-trader within the Community and, as such, will be eager to settle such differences. Moreover, the more unsettled central and Eastern Europe seem to become, the more it will be desirable for any British government to stick close to America, even if the connection is only on a bilateral basis. A final demise of the "special relationship" would also be a sign of a dangerously diminished American interest in European affairs.
European relations are the most important and the most problematical part of British foreign policy. Other matters-international cooperation against the drug trade or in favor of the environment, aid to developing countries-excite little contradiction, least of all from the present leadership of the Labour Party. Mrs. Thatcher dominates foreign policy as she does domestic. There is a continuing tension between the prime minister's office, which has to pay attention to voters, and the Foreign Office, which has to heed other foreign offices, but this hardly amounts to a divided policy. Under the present government, British policy is complex-partly because it is responding to an increasingly complicated international situation, especially in Europe-but it is not contradictory.
Finally, what can be said about the prospects for Mrs. Thatcher and her government at the next election? Despite all their difficulties, it seems very unlikely that the Conservatives could actually be defeated by the Labour Party, though they might well lose many seats. The present Labour midterm lead is not large enough to be taken as a sign of any grand reversal, nor is there any evidence of a Labour recovery in those "modern" parts of Britain that it would need to carry in order to gain a majority in Parliament. Of course, were the government to continue to make the same kind of economic miscalculations it did in 1988, then it might be in bad trouble. In any case, between now and the election it will have to face a difficult economic situation. But provided that the government displays vigor and competence, this need not harm its prospects. The polls show that a majority of the electorate regard the Conservatives as better able to handle economic crises than Labour. The greatest electoral handicap for the Labour Party is the often expressed doubt of the man in the street as to Mr. Kinnock's ability to run Britain's economy.
By the time an election is called, a number of the issues that are putting pressure upon the government now will have become less immediate. Controversial legislation will largely be through Parliament by the end of the coming parliamentary year, and it is hard to keep political issues alive and kicking for more than two years. Doctors and lawyers, school and university teachers will have simmered down by the next election. As for Mrs. Thatcher's authoritarian style, so much reviled in intellectual circles, it is improbable that it will affect the result very much. Those who now regard the prime minister as having reached the limits of public tolerance were saying exactly the same before the 1987 election. Despite the fretting and fuming of the "chattering classes" about recent cabinet reshufflings, Mrs. Thatcher remains an electoral asset, if only because she is the only politician familiar to most voters.
Moreover, it is far too late for the party to make any change in leadership before the next election, short of illness or accident. As time goes on, conservatives will come to realize that in 1988, it was she that was right about inflation, and Mr. Lawson who was wrong. Her standing recovered in six months from Mr. Heseltine's resignation. A post-Lawson recuperation may take longer, but the most likely forecast is that the affair will gradually sink out of sight. Meanwhile, she will have to expend more tact and political skill on her colleagues than previously. Essentially, the future of herself and her government depends on the British economy. If this is in order by the next election the probability is that the Conservatives will win by a reduced margin. If not, then all bets are off-including any on the fate of a future Labour government.
In the ordinary course of events, there must come an end to her spectacular reign. After the next election the Conservative Party will be in for a change of leadership whatever happens. If it has a bad time at the polls, then Mrs. Thatcher will have less influence on the party's choice of her successor. If the event is favorable, then her shadow will continue to loom large in the party councils. In any case, after Thatcher, Thatcherism will continue. Any future government must start from what has been done over the last ten years. The "mold of British politics" has indeed been broken, but by the Conservative Party and not the Social Democrat originators of the phrase. Mrs. Thatcher has transformed British politics and society. Whatever happens in 1991, history will hardly deny her that achievement.
1 Needless to say, these changes have not satisfied the social critics. Those who in the 1960s railed against the class system now sigh for a vanished paternalism. In the same way, progressive social thinkers who once denounced the "tyranny" and "claustrophobia" of family life have switched to calling for a renewed sense of "community."
3 In 1987, for instance, there was an increase of 45,000 new enterprises, allowing for closures. In 1988-89 the start-ups were running at an average of more than 1,300 a week. See Riddell, Ibid., p. 75.
4 The Greens fear the introduction of "commercial" criteria by the new private water companies. The government's reasoning is that new private capital will be required if Britain's water is to be cleansed of pollutants and minerals. Until now the public water companies have both sold water and regulated its standards. Now the latter task will be carried out by an independent Rivers Authority.
5 This is an inaccurate description. Mr. Delors' thinking on social matters is more influenced by the corporatism of Catholic social doctrine than by socialism. Of course, it is nonetheless true that this might mean the return in Britain of the bad old habits of the 1970s.
6 I have discussed this in "After 1992: Multiple Choice," The National Interest, Spring 1989.
7 See Josef Joffe, "The Revisionists: Moscow, Bonn, and the European Balance": The National Interest, Fall 1989.